Ohio's Most Endangered Historic Site
Citizens rally to save downtown Tiffin's historic centerpiece

By Stephen J. Hartzell,

April 29, 2007
The most hotly debated local issue of recent memory has been regarding the fate of our Seneca County Courthouse. It has become clear that no matter how this issue plays out, a large segment of our population will not be happy. As a forward to my photo journal of the April 28 rally, please allow me to present some thoughts on the issue.

The maintenance of the current Courthouse has been greatly mismanaged since the trying days of WWII. At that time the original ornamental iron domed tower was removed and replaced with the current one. Clearly, the design chosen for the new tower was not compatible with the original architecture of the building.

The Courthouse, with the original ornamental tower
(postcard image)

The Courthouse, with the replacement clock tower
(postcard image)

Officials of that era, and every succeeding county administration can be blamed for the current condition of this grand old building. And now the question is, where do we go from here?

While I am a preservationist at heart, I am also realistic enough to understand that every decision to preserve a historic structure must be based on common sense, a viable plan and fiscal responsibility. One example of a historic structure that was saved from demolition without having a viable plan in place is the Spivey Manley house at the corner of Madison and Front streets. That building was spared some years ago, but to this day there has been nothing done with the structure, and no one has a clue what it can be used for.

In the case of the existing Courthouse, there are several viable options available, none of which have been properly explored. To me, talk of demolishing the building is both very expensive and very much premature.

Here is my own bottom line. Before one block is removed, I want to see an architect's rendering of exactly what is going to replace it, complete with realistic cost estimates. I want to see both proposals laid side by side so that we can make an intelligent and responsible decision. If the new design is deemed to be the better option, I want to know that every option for an alternative use of the grand old building has been thoroughly explored. I want to know if a new structure could be built in a more cost efficient manner if it were constructed on an adjacent corner of the same intersection.

There is a lot at stake here, both financially and historically. Let's just take a little more time to insure that every available option is properly explored.

April 28, 2007
Seneca County Courthouse Rally

A large crowd assembled for the rally.

The United Veterans Council fires a salute

The inappropriate 1943 replacement tower serves as a reminder of past mistakes

A portion of the exterior reminds us of continued neglect

General Gibson was the orator when the cornerstone was laid on June 30, 1884, and he still stands watch

Doug Collar gives an impassioned speech to the assembled crowd. He expressed dismay that no Tiffin city official has taken any kind of stand on an issue that would make a huge impact on the downtown area.

This sign set the tone for the day's events

Preservation Ohio Executive Director Thomas Palmer announced that the Seneca County Courthouse has been named as Ohio's most endangered historic site, the first time any site has been so designated

James Lee Austin, as courthouse architect Elijah Myers, reminds the crowd of buildings already gone in Tiffin, and urges that the courthouse should not be demolished.

New county commissioner Mike Bridinger talks to reporters following the rally. He was the only commissioner present.

A sign of the times